In the tenth chapter of Luke we are told of a certain lawyer who “put Jesus to the test” (v. 25). In the New Testament, lawyers, or scribes as they were also called, were specialists in the interpretation and teaching the law of God, having studied in one of the rabbinical schools. Jesus was not from one of these rabbinical schools. Yet, we read in Matthew 7:28–29, “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” That would help explain why there was always some lawyer confronting Jesus over matters of the law.
In Luke 10:25, the lawyer gets to the heart of the matter: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” This question rests on the assumption in the rabbinical community that eternal life is gained through the keeping of God’s law. This is why the scribes were so punctilious in their efforts to interpret God’s law. Jesus responds with a two-part question of His own: “What is written in the law?” and, “How do you read it?” (v. 26). In other words, how are you interpreting the requirements of the law? The lawyer’s response in verse 27 mirrors Jesus’ summation of the two tables of the law recorded in Matthew 22:34–40 and Mark 12:28–31.
The essence of the law is to love God with the totality of our being and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus tells the lawyer, “Do this and you will live” (Luke 10:28). It should be noted that anyone who interprets the law in this twofold manner and keeps it perfectly in thought, word, and deed will earn eternal life. (Of course, no one has ever done this except Christ, which is why we must trust not in our own obedience but His.) At this point, the lawyer raised a question of interpretation: “Who is my neighbor?” (v. 29). This is what propelled Jesus into the time-honored parable of the good Samaritan.
There are three lessons we can learn from this parable. (1) This parable demonstrates the inseparable connection between the two parts of the law. Our love of God is manifested in love of neighbor. We read in 1 John 4:20, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” Loving God and neighbor is agreed upon by Jesus and the lawyer as God’s requirement to inherit eternal life, and this parable illustrates what love of neighbor is. (2) This parable demonstrates the dynamics and substance of the gospel message. The Good Samaritan’s care of the man overtaken by robbers is a picture of the love of God as it rescues us helpless sinners from our fallen condition. (3) Finally, this parable illustrates the dynamics of new life that is a fruit of the gospel, in that we are able to see our fellow image bearers as we ought—as neighbors, rather than through the artificial barriers imposed by our fallen nature reinforced by culture. This is not what saves us or gives us eternal life. Being rescued by our Savior does that, but part of the proof of our rescue and vertical reconciliation is horizontal love and service.